Even within the variety of basic configurations, pickups can differ greatly in price, fuel economy, comfort, performance, safety, and reliability. Some of those factors can be interlinked. The best fuel economy goes hand in hand with lighter weight, smaller size, and modest power. A heavy trailer demands a heavy truck, with an accompanying fuel-economy penalty. Plus, the more heavy-duty a truck is, the worse it tends to ride. The most capable trucks have dual rear wheels, with rear fenders that stick out about 8 inches from either side of the truck and making these extreme machines difficult to maneuver.
With pickup trucks, it is important to buy what you need, resisting the urge to overdo it. While it may be tempting to have extra cargo and towing capacity, you'll pay for it both upfront and through compromises (such as ride and fuel economy) over time.
The open cargo bed lends itself to serious chores, such as moving large appliances, bulky furniture, tools or equipment, motorcycles, snow blowers, and outdoors-only cargo, such as wood chips, manure, and trash. Those are tasks you wouldn't want to (or couldn't) do with a minivan or SUV.
Pickup trucks are also well suited to towing boat, car, utility, and travel trailers. Manufacturer specifications for the vehicle and its driveline will note maximum cargo weight and towing capacities. You can choose original-equipment (OEM) towing packages or buy aftermarket equipment. Buying from the factory is the best choice, since installation might involve complex wiring for the trailer brakes and lights, special attachment points for the tow hitch, and accessories such as a heavy-duty alternator and a transmission oil cooler. Further, the manufacturer-engineered packages come backed by the factory warranty. Many, but not all, pickups can be ordered with a trailer brake controller.
While pickup trucks have impressive abilities, they also have inherent drawbacks. For example, they tend to guzzle gas whether they're loaded or not. For gasoline-powered full-size trucks, 14 to 17 mpg overall is par for the course. For a compact truck such as a Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma, figure 17 to 18 mpg. Of course, the mileage only goes down when the vehicles are carrying cargo or pulling a trailer.
Among other considerations, the open bed leaves cargo vulnerable to the weather or theft. Being tall, cabin access can be difficult (consider side steps on 4WD models), and the side rails of full-size truck beds are so high off the ground that loading and retrieving heavy items over the side is awkward, tiresome, or inconvenient. (Some models now have integrated steps in the bumper or folding steps on the tailgate to make access easier for shorter owners.) Trucks don't tend to have the most comfortable ride, though the ride does smooth out when they are carrying cargo in the bed. And the latest-generation trucks have seen the rides improved markedly. œTrucklike" isn't nearly the insult it once was. If you choose a handy extended cab or spacious crew cab, you might have to put up with a short load bed, typically five feet, which limits what you can carry. But the longer bed, typically eight feet, makes for a very long, hard-to-park vehicle if that bed is added to an extended-cab truck.
Ultimately, the most practical strategy for selecting a pickup is to find a truck that meets your requirements without buying more than you need. Consider starting with our lists of Recommended trucks and working your way up the line from the smallest and least costly.